Understanding Flow

In becoming a beekeeper in an urban setting, there are a lot of complications and challenges that come up. Many of which are obvious: neighbours, bylaw, support groups/clubs, access to information etc. But, a surprising one for many newbees is your adjustment to attuning your life with nature. 

Living in an urban or pari-urban environment can make the communion with nature difficult as every other thing in your life is dedicated to the calendar and the clock. Now, if you are an active gardener, the topic of FLOW will be easier to adjust to and witness. If you aren’t and the bees are your first leap in to ‘producing’ or ‘husbandry’, you will find the tips below useful.

This article is all about FLOW: what is it, how to identify it, how to use it to your beekeeping advantage, including wax, brood and honey production (depending on your goals for the season).

WHAT IS A FLOW?

In beekeeping, the term flow applies to what nature is yielding to benefit your bees. It can be a nectar flow, pollen flow, or a combination of the two. This is a time when your colonies will see a booster shot in all forms of production. Flow allows your colony to decrease in stress and increase in foraging behaviours.

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TYPES OF FLOW?

It is important to understand a bit about plant sex and and how plants adapt to communicate with their pollinators. Some use scent or colour, while others use nectar loads or pollen concentration to increase success. What has a deciding factor on this has a whole lot to do with the climate where these flowers are found as well as the type of pollinator they are trying to lure in. We are going to talk exclusively about bees as pollinators.

EXAMPLE- CLIMATE, FLOWER SELECTION AND FLOW IN ALBERTA:

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Where we are located, here in the Canadian prairies, we have 3 distinct flows: Spring (willow and dandelion), Summer (sweet clover, canola, and alfalfa) and Fall (thistle and goldenrod).

CLIMATE:

Our climate here is about 6 months of full winter ending in March and starting in October. Our Spring is tough as there are wide ranges in temperatures between night and day, as well as weather variability of sun, rain and snow. Our Summers tend to be warm, moist, but rarely exceed 30C for more than a week. It is not uncommon to expect a thundershower a couple of nights a week. Our Fall is dry, long and contains the hottest days of the year. Starting in late July-early August, our Fall tends to have poor precipitation and with our northern latitude, the daylight hours remain long.

FLOWER SELECTION BY SEASON

20150401_184103So, the plants that flower during Spring, especially earlier on are heartier (tending to be tree flowers: Elm, poplar, and willow) and Pollen Rich! This is because of the tough climate. Plants that produce large quantities of nectar are at risk of freezing and killing the flowering body in our cold nights. So these plants use pollen as both a lure to bees but also act in increasing their chances of reproductive success. The more pollen, the more gametes out there with the potential of ‘getting lucky!’

 

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Summer flow tends to be Nectar Rich because of the warmth (not too hot, not too cold) and moisture. This allows for the plants to produce nectar without the risk of dehydration to the plant or a loss of nectar due to evaporation. What can kill a summer flow is, of course, a heat wave or a drought. Plants have a choice on how much and how long they will produce nectar. This is because nectar production is labor intensive for a plant.

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Fall flow is the opposite of the summer flow as it is hot and dry. This means that plants that are productive during this time of year tend to be pollen rich as well, with a lower nectar load as the heat of the long days can steal from the flowers and make the plant have to work harder to keep their nectar for the bees.

 

HOW TO ID FLOW?

As a beginner, you can ask beekeepers in your area how many flows are expected in a season, what plant reproduction represents the dominant plant of the flow, and when this usually occurs. Weather over climate tends to dominate when the flow will begin and when it will end.

Helpful Hints for ID Flow:

Look at your bees

  • Is there an increase of foraging activity in your hive?
  • Do you see workers on the comb doing bee dances?
  • Do you see pollen coming in on your bees?
  • Do you see an increase of brood, wax or honey production?
  • Are your bees easy to manage behaviourally?

Look at your environment

  • Are plants starting to flower?
  • Has the anticipated climate shift taken place: rainy to dry, hot to cold?
  • Has your ecosystem changed with the season?

DEARTH: OPPOSITE OF FLOW

This is a time when plants produce very little nectar or pollen. This tends to shoulder flow seasons. This is when your colony may become protective, decrease in brood rearing, or increase in stress.

WHAT TO DO DURING A FLOW?:

Nectar flows are a great time to do the following:

  • Super your colony20140612_111515
  • Make splits
  • Raise queens
  • Apply pollen traps
    • Do this with care. You DO NOT want to put on a pollen trap early in a season when the summer bees are replacing your winter bees. Pollen traps are best used in the Fall when colonies are decreasing in brood size. This is because a large portion of brood diet is pollen based.
  • Push for wax production
    • This is done usually during your spring flow because you have the largest number of young bees in your beehive and it is the young bees that are the best at producing wax.
  • Requeen or combine
    • If your colony has lacked to POP, grow, or get rid of chalk brooHarvest5d during a flow, it is a good time to consider REQUEENING or COMBINING your colonies. Flows help you decipher how your colony is responding to their potential. You want a hive that is maximizing their opportunities for ALL production options.
  • Harvest honey
    • Harvesting honey during a flow decreased your challenges with robbing.

So, hopefully you feel like you can interpret nature a bit better.

It is important that you remember the ROLE in which nature plays in your management, and that you don’t beekeeper in a vacuum (although everything else in your life may do so).

TIPS:

  • Keep a calendar (online or physical) noting the day and year and flow name that you feel your bees took on a Flow. It is great because as the years pass, you will begin to see a rhythm to the seasons and begin to feel more attuned to the seasonality of nature/flow and management.
  • Confirm with other beekeepers in your area what they anticipated, saw, and project. This will help you consider if your impressions are on or not.
  • Look at gardening journals or magazines for your area. Many time when it is time to start seedlings indoor in the spring, this is the time when you should start anticipating your early spring flow events.

How you can learn more? Apiaries and Bees for Communities offers outstanding educational experiences to inform and inspire acts of pollinator stewardship. We are dedicated to the resilient management of honey bees and pollinator guardianship. We offer exceptional programming to rekindle your childlike wonder with the natural world. Our programming, key note speaking and beehive partnerships endeavour to Build the Hive Mentality within communities across Canada.

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